Corner Canyon football three-peats in dominating fashionJan 18, 2021 02:29PM ● By Catherine Garrett
The Corner Canyon High football team took home its third straight state title with a 45-7 win over Lone Peak Nov. 20 at Cedar Valley High School. (Photos courtesy AStrongPhotography)
By Catherine Garrett | [email protected]
This year has looked different in a variety of ways, but one thing that certainly hasn’t changed is the dominance of the Corner Canyon High football team in winning its third consecutive state title and second in the 6A ranks. The Chargers defeated Lone Peak 45-7 at Cedar Valley High School Nov. 20 and extended their current winning streak to 40 games. The CCHS squad hasn’t lost since the 2017 5A title game in which Skyridge won 34-33.
“These kids fought through a lot of the 2020 problems, pressed forward and kept their eyes on the prize and were still able to accomplish their goals,” head coach Eric Kjar said. “It means a lot to these kids. Football is really important to them and I’m just so glad to see that they could play and do so well.”
Lineman Jackson Light, who is headed to the University of Oregon in January to suit up for the Ducks in the fall, said, “It honestly feels normal that we won, but it was really special to win this year. We knew it would be hard, especially with competing in the toughest region in the state, but this is such a tribute to coach Kjar and the program that he runs here.”
Running back Austin Bell, who tore his ACL two games into the year said, “It felt so good to be able to win but, most importantly, being able to win with all my teammates and coaches meant so much to me.”
Defensive coordinator Casey Sutera said that winning the last three state titles feels differently every time. “Every year, you think winning the championship again might lose some of the emotion, but it felt just like the first time. It’s a different year with some different kids and you know how hard they worked. It was extra emotional this year after having spent the last four years with some of them and being able to play football to get a sense of normalcy and be a bright light in the midst of the craziness.”
During the Chargers’ 14-0 season, Corner Canyon outscored opponents 671 to 229 including putting up 206 points in the playoffs alone while giving up just 62 points.
They played on a national stage in an ESPN-televised game against Bingham Aug. 28th – with literally the nation watching as no other state had started high school football games yet – and defeated the Miners 48-20 behind six touchdown passes from 6A Most Valuable Player quarterback Jaxson Dart, including two to wide receiver Noah Kjar. That duo continued to connect throughout the season and both broke state records – Dart for touchdown passes (67) and total offense (5,867 yards) in a season and Noah Kjar with 285 receptions in a career. “Those records are results of countless hours of hard work and great teammates getting you the ball,” Noah Kjar said.
Two games in mid-season proved to be tough tests for the Chargers in defending their state title – matchups with region rivals Lone Peak and Skyridge.
In late September, CCHS found themselves down 13-7 early to the Knights and in a tight game much of the way before scoring three straight touchdowns in the second half to win 35-25.
Their Oct. 8 game with Skyridge was a dogfight as Corner Canyon had to come back from a 26-14 halftime deficit. Neither team scored in the third quarter before the Chargers put up 15 points in the fourth quarter to win 29-26, including the game winner – a four-yard TD pass from Dart to wide receiver Cody Hagen – with under a minute left in the game.
“We gathered around at halftime and Coach Sutera told our defense to keep playing our game and go get the offense the ball so they could score,” Cahoon said. “He told us to have faith in each other.”
“Those two games were the biggest games this year for our growth,” Sutera said. “They started fast and we had to adjust on the fly. We hadn’t had that adversity so we had to figure ourselves out. We knew we could play better on both sides of the ball so we were excited to see one of those teams again at the end.”
Coach Kjar agreed. “Without those two games, we wouldn’t have been as tested. We learned a lot about ourselves against those really good teams and it really helped our playoff run.”
Defensive back Ryan Cahoon said that he and his teammates were simply grateful to be on the field. “From the very beginning, no one thought we would have a full season so we truly played every game like it was our last,” he said. “It was pretty different this year with no student section and no fans, but we were just happy to play.”
In the first round of the 6A playoffs, Corner Canyon defeated Westlake 59-3 Oct. 30 in a dominating performance led by Dart’s 405 yards passing and Noah Kjar and Hagen combining for 276 receiving yards and three scores. Defensively, 12 players recorded tackles while Jayden Kaiq, Teancum Mitchell and James LeBaron each had sacks with Zach Hale intercepting the Thunder’s Braeden Ross.
The Chargers defeated Bingham 57-22 in the quarterfinals Nov. 6. Dart was 13 of 18 for 301 yards with Hagen hauling in five passes for 116 yards and a TD and Handley recording 3 TD receptions. Harrison Taggart, who switched from wide receiver to linebacker before the season, led the defense with 15 tackles and an INT.
In the semis, the Chargers beat East 45-30 Nov. 12 behind another 300-yard passing game from Dart and a six catch, 117-yard, 2 TD performance from Talmage Handley while Wilson had 18 tackles and Taggart had 15 along with 1.5 sacks on the defensive side of the ball.
That set up the title showdown with Lone Peak where the outcome of the game was never in doubt as the Knights put up its only score with six minutes left in the game. Dart threw for over 300 yards and 4 TDs while rushing for 119 yards and another score. Noah Kjar and Hagen both had 100-yard receiving games with a TD each while Charlie Eberling led the defense with nine tackles and two picks. On the very last play of the game, Corner Canyon kneeled in victory formation to have the injured Bell back on the field to take the snap. “We knew Austin was going to dress and do the coin toss, but coach Kjar let him out there to be with all of us on the field,” Light, who played center, said. “That was a really special moment to have my last high school snap go to my best friend. I had tears streaming down my face as I snapped the ball. I was so happy for him.”
“We relied on each other and tried to go out and make plays for each other,” Taggart said. “There is such a team bond as we have dealt with this global pandemic and this season has meant everything to all of us.”
Noah Kjar, Dart, Light, Taggart and offensive linemen Brennan Mangum and Luke Sampson were named First Team All-State while Hagen and Wilson were recognized on the second and third teams, respectively. Colton Grimshaw was honored with an Academic All-State award for his excellence in the classroom and as a defensive back on the field.
Unique this year from the coaches’ perspective was an even greater hunger inside those in the Corner Canyon football program than they had seen before. Coach Sutera said, “These players have always been competitive and wanted to win, but this was different. There was even more energy, excitement and purpose with all that we did.”
“As crazy as this year has been and with all the precautions we’ve had to do to keep everyone safe – including the 15,000 temperatures my wide receivers coach Robert Pickering has taken – I’d do it all over again, for these kids” Coach Kjar said. “They have such a team approach and bought into what we do here.”
And what the number eight team in the nation has been doing is collecting championship trophies.